By Megan Fernandez
MASON, Ohio – Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will meet for the fourth time and on the third surface this year when they contest the final of the Western & Southern Open near Cincinnati on Sunday. Djokovic won their first two meetings in straight sets (both matches were on clay this spring), but since then, Federer has beaten Djokovic on grass, regained the No. 1 ranking, and become the man to beat once again on the ATP World Tour.
Djokovic booked his spot in Sundayâ€™s final first be defeating Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 6-2 in a rematch of the bronze-medal round at the Olympics. The Argentine missed a chance to take an early lead with two break points at 1-1 in the first set. Djokovic saved those and one more in that game with his trademark defense, and after the changeover, it was Del Potroâ€™s turn to escape three break points, this time from love-40.
But Djokovic secured the first service break of the match two games later, and at 5-2, Del Potro called a trainer to look at his left wrist. It was all Djokovic from that point, and even his opponent knew it. â€œI didnâ€™t retire because Djokovic is my friend and I have a lot of respect for him and I want to finish the match. And also for the crowd, for the tournament, and everybody,â€ said Del Potro, the tournamentâ€™s No. 6 seed.
â€œIt was sportsmanlike,â€ Djokovic said of his opponentâ€™s resolve. â€œHeâ€™s a great player and a great person.â€
Retirements marred the latter rounds of the Western & Southern Open last year. Tomas Berdych retired from his semi-final against Djokovic, who, a day later, retired from the championship match against Andy Murray. Both players cited sore shoulders.
Del Potro didnâ€™t blame his injury for the result. â€œI lost because Djokovic played much better than me. The wrist didnâ€™t bother me too much,â€ he said.
Federerâ€™s ninth consecutive victory over Stan Wawrinka ended his countrymanâ€™s surprising run in Cincinnati. The world No. 26 posted his best result of the year by taking advantage of a section of the draw left open by upsets of the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds, David Ferrer and Berdych.
Wawrinka stopped play to challenge on Federerâ€™s first set point, believing his opponentâ€™s shot landed long. He was right, barely, and then leveled the match at 5-5. At 2-2 in the tiebreak, he might have benefited from another show of chutzpah when Federerâ€™s overhead appeared to go long; instead, Wawrinka continued to play, lost the point, and later double-faulted to give Federer another chance to close out the set, which he converted. Federer won the second set 6-3 for a shot to become the only five-time winner in Cincinnati.
â€œIâ€™m obviously excited. I have loved this tournament for many years,â€ Federer says. â€œCouldnâ€™t have a tougher test in the finals against Novak, because he is playing so great on the hard courts.â€
Federer and Djokovic havenâ€™t faced each other in a final since February 2011. Of their 27 contests overall, six have been title matches, and each man has won three. However, Federer has performed much better on Cincinnatiâ€™s hard courts, taking home the hardware in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2010 and never losing a final. Djokovic hasnâ€™t won a set in his trips to the 2008, 2009, and 2011 finals.
Both men are playing well, should have plenty of energy left, and will come into the match with some momentumâ€”Federer from winning his seventh Wimbledon and first Olympic singles medal, and Djokovic fresh off a victory in Toronto last week. Cincinnatiâ€™s first-ever final featuring the top two players in the world stands to live up to its immense promise.
Megan Fernandez is covering the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her updates on twitter at @TennisNewsTPN.